1. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
Dystopian fiction is something I will always come back to as an academic, a student and a writer. It reflects and reacts to so many of the general areas of life that I am interested in: politics, philosophy and human nature. This was by no means the first dystopian novel I read, but in a way I feel it opened my eyes to something beyond the words on the page. I read it just before college, and spent a lot of time thinking about its greater implications. In the 1984/Brave New World contest, BNW will always win.
2. We – Yevgeny Zamyatin
This book was recommended by my A level English teacher, when I asked her about dystopian fiction and I am so glad I found it. It is another that is compared often enough to Orwell’s 1984, mainly because he plagiarised the plot from it. We is excellently crafted, even in English translation, and incites far more of an emotional response than 1984. Its characters are reflective of an oppressed, futuristic society under a totalitarian government, something that Zamyatin, writing in Russia at the time of the revolution, captures interestingly and evocatively.
3. The Bloody Chamber (and other stories) – Angela Carter
I first read these stories as a very young girl, coming across them in my Mum’s bookshelf and being bewildered by them. Even though I was too young to understand them from a feminist perspective, their beautifully intricate prose had a profound effect on me, and when I rediscovered them years later, for my English A-Level coursework, I delved into them and immersed myself in the fantasy world again, forming new ideas about femininity and sexuality that still pervade my studies today at university. In fact, I have a feeling it’s on one of my module reading lists for next term – I can’t wait!
4. Noughts & Crosses – Malorie Blackman
This may be YA fiction, but it will always have a place in my life as the first book to really open my eyes to the kind of oppression minorities face daily. I feel like my exposure to racism as a child was quite limited, going to an incredibly ethnically diverse primary school and having an ethnically diverse family life. However, that is not to say that it wasn’t there, and reading this story of forbidden love between two people of different skin colours will break your heart with its injustice over and over again. This was the first novel to hurt me, and I will never forget it and I will never stop recommending it for people to read. In the ways it can change your outlook, and the ways it can affect your life, it is nothing less than a masterpiece.
5. Beloved – Toni Morrison
Another heartbreaking tale of hatred and discrimination, hailed as a ‘story that needed to be told’, the sinister ghost of slavery will haunt you for long after you close the final page. This was another A-Level text, and it was one that made me feel so hopeless and angry at the world, that I had to stop reading it a few times. But it is a story that needs to be told, and more than that – a story that needs to be read.
6. The Green Mile – Stephen King
Stephen King’s work is masterful. He writes in such a digestible way that you’re not aware you’re even reading. This immerses you within the world he creates, and the most magical and touching example of this is certainly within The Green Mile. A story of a gentle giant who has a magical gift, and a kind-hearted prison officer who chooses to help him cannot be done sufficient justice in a synoptic paragraph. It will lift your spirits and give you something to believe in – be it the ultimate kindness of humanity or something more.
7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
Bronte’s gothic romance is a wonderful exception to all the boring Victorian literature out there. Heathcliff is a despicable villain, who you find yourself rooting for, because his life has been so cruel to him and his complex emotions are so well understood by Bronte that the reader has no choice but to sympathise. This attention to detail in character development, intertwined with a ghostly narrative, gives Wuthering Heights something that makes it unlike any other. For me, it redefined every archetype I thought I knew, and for that I have to put it on this list.
8. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
This story is written in an unexceptional way, an attempt to hold the reader’s hand through an Afghani warscape rather than a gentle guide. Nevertheless, the setting becomes irrelevant next to the two young boys’ love for one another. There is no doubt that this story is a painful tragedy, with many saddening events, but if anything is going to make you weep, it will be Hassan’s unwavering smile.
9. Animal Farm – George Orwell
Again, this was a book I read at a young age and didn’t really comprehend. Its parallels to the Russian revolution are brilliantly executed and leave their profound effect on your mind days after you put it down. It’s a tiny book really, but manages to condense a huge narrative into a short story, and this is where its talent lies. It’s an important read for anyone interested in history and anyone interested in great books!
10. Monkey Taming – Judith Fathallah
This true story of a girl’s spiral into anorexia was a difficult thing to read as an impressionable youth. It’s not the best book I’ve ever read, but reading it made me feel a sense of horrified gratitude that has stayed with me all these years. For a while I did struggle with eating habits, and this book made me feel more certain about who I was, in a way. It shows that this problem is a mental illness, and I think it would be brilliant for young people who are going through a similar thing to read this, even if it doesn’t help them at all. Sometimes it’s comforting to know that you’re not alone in the way you feel.